top of page
20120928_MT HOOD_17-EDIT.jpeg

Coming out is so annoying. I realize that comes from a place of privilege and I’m infinitely grateful to all the people who have come before me, advocated for equality, and slowly fought inch-by-inch for the ground I stand on (please, society, let us at least keep it). To the warriors I say, I’m forever in your debt. But to the rest of you...I say, can we just, like, be done? Because this shit is exhausting.

For those of you who haven’t come out, it’s a little bit like the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The struggle is REAL and everyone has their own story. The path doesn’t always lead to acceptance but this post isn’t really about the hard-won steps of self-discovery. Instead, it’s about the telling once you’ve gotten there. Sometimes that telling is just to yourself, sometimes it’s to your inner circle, and sometimes you tell the world.

There are so many factors that go into deciding how open you’ll be about your identity. Like, the level of PLANNING that goes into this. The community, the history of vulnerability, the potential negative repercussions. If you’re not sure if it’ll be a safe response, you make a backup plan. You might plan for post-sharing moral support. You decide the venue, the method, the lead up. You come up with the conversation starter, the segue, the actual words. You gear up and sit through the uncomfortable, the anxiety, the anticipation. You think of all the people you’re going to tell personally and what you’re going to say to the people who wanted to be told personally but weren’t (I don’t have a Coming Out contact list, Brenda). It’s like planning a marriage proposal over and over again except the big news is, “I’m me” and the reaction is much less predictable - ranging from, “That’s so amazing!” to “You’re literal evil” and everywhere in between. Throw in clinical anxiety, trauma, and insecurity and you’ve bought yourself a therapist for at least three years.

I’ve come out in a bunch of different ways – in person, one-on-one, in small groups, virtually, over the phone, in email, and in a card. The card one was some of my best work; it was a single sentence in the middle of a bunch of random updates. Her response was, “Way to bury the lede!” and honestly the only surprise there was the sinking realization I’ve been spelling the phrase wrong my whole life.

I think the only thing worse than coming out to family and friends is having to come out A SECOND TIME.

You: But isn’t it easier the second time around?

Me: You haven’t had a negative coming out experience and it shows.

I’ll concede I can see how you got there; the logic makes sense -- even with the negative responses. Like, I already changed their view of me forever, what’s one more time? It’s not like there’s a hell below hell.

But also! It’s still terrible. Maybe it’s not for everybody, but to me, the idea of coming out a second time is even more daunting. By now you know any social interaction can take a toll for me and vulnerability takes significantly more effort. We have a finite amount of energy; why do I gotta be spending mine making these ANNOUNCEMENTS? I already completed my rite of passage – let me move on with my life.

But until we get rid of coming out in general, let me add yet another method to my growing list. Allow me to set the scene of the memory we’ll cherish forevermore.

We’re at this great new local restaurant having lunch. We’re sitting at one of those little bistro tables outside because suddenly we’re in France or New York or wherever those classic movie scenes always are. It’s busy but not too busy, like I don’t feel self-conscious that everyone is hearing our conversation but also, I can totally hear you without feeling like we need to shout. The food is delicious, the weather is perfect, the conversation is flowing in a totally non-awkward way. We’re laughing! We’re bonding! We’ve never had such a great time! We’re chatting about totally normal topics and the conversation naturally, organically even, turns to gender identity as it so often does. Is there anything else we could even be talking about? There’s no other natural progression, really. And after an especially witty anecdote (there just been so many!) I say:

“Oh BTdubs, I’m non-binary.”

“Will you do me a favor?” The blue text bubble lit up on my screen as I sat at my desk in my office. It’s Kaitlyn and the three blinking gray dots show she’s still typing to give me more specifics. “Would you be willing to go pick up the dogs from the vet this afternoon? They’re done early.”

She’d dropped Emmy and Cedar off to get their teeth cleaned on her way to work. This was my first experience with dog teeth cleaning and Kaitlyn had already taught me several things about it (as she does will all aspects of dog ownership) including that they had to get bloodwork done beforehand and the dogs go under anesthesia for it. In general, Kaitlyn takes care of all animal-related care. For the dogs, that means she grooms them, exercises them, feeds them, bathes and brushes them, shops for their food and toys, and all around makes it so they live the lives of queens. My role is to help pay for this lifestyle, feed them when Kaitlyn will be home late, let them out during the day, try to bribe their love with treats, and clean up the ever-present dog hair around the house. And, act as the back-up to picking them up from the vet.

“Yeah I can,” I typed back. Working remotely means my job is more flexible than hers and I could just bring them directly home. After some quick coordinating to figure out how we’d switch cars (I love them but their hair is not allowed in mine), and a look at my work calendar, I left after my next afternoon meeting.

I’ve been to the vet before. Or rather, I’ve been to the vet parking lot. Kaitlyn made sure I know exactly where it is in case of emergencies, and I once needed to pick up a medication for Emmy. It was during Covid lockdown times though, so they just came out to my car.

Kaitlyn prepped me before going. “I talked to the vet and the girls did fine. It’s also already paid for. You just have to go pick them up.” Simple.

But as I pulled into the parking lot, the anxiety started to hit – both because it was a new experience and also because, try as I might, I’m just downright awkward with pets, including my own. What if they’re so loopy they don’t recognize me? Or they’re just not excited to see me? What if I’m so bad at this the workers don’t even believe I’m their owner? What if they think I’m a dog napper?!

It was an irrational fear but to my anxious brain, the only thing irrational about it was that a dog napper would be more calm, confident, and natural with dogs than me. I just need to act the part for a few minutes so they’ll actually release them into my care. As if this was suddenly a meeting with Dog Social Services and our very rights to ownership were on the line.

This wasn’t my first experience with dog owner imposter syndrome. Some weekends I tag along with Kaitlyn to her dog sporting events and yes, the people who attend those types of things are exactly the level of enthusiasts you’d imagine. I’ve gotten sucked into conversations with other dog owners who naturally assume I’m at the same level of commitment as them. As if I attend these things regularly. As if I’m there, right in that moment, for reasons other than loving my wife. I smile and nod and try to laugh in the right places and overall seem engaged in these conversations while trying to hide as much as possible how little I know about basic dog training. I never really feel like I’m very convincing because I think the level of discernment pet lovers have is next level. And now, once again, I was about to be in a room full of Dog People.

I could hear Kaitlyn’s voice in the back of my mind, “Why are you worried?! You don’t even have to do anything,” with genuine confusion about how I could possibly find anxiety in this basic task. You underestimate me, imaginary Kaitlyn.

I walked up to the front desk and said as casually as I could muster, “I’m just here to pick up Emmy and Cedar.”

“Okay perfect! They’re just in the back. I’ll let them know you’re here and someone will bring them up shortly,” she said, giving no indication her dog-napper sensor was on high alert.

“Great, thanks!” I said and turned to find a seat in the waiting room. There were three dogs and their owners already sitting. Just be cool, I told myself, while also strategizing how I would be able to get Emmy and Cedar out without them saying hi to the other dogs. They’re very well behaved (thank you Kaitlyn) but unexpected interaction management is above my pay grade.

I sat off to the side and pulled out my phone to wait, scrolling through email as I braced for the worst of it. I looked up with any movement, 100% not relaxed, until a staff member called out, “Emmy and Cedar?” like a nurse at the doctor’s office. I stood up, wondering where the dogs were, and listened to her go through a quick pamphlet recap of the procedure.

“Are they able to eat right when they get home?” I asked, hopefully improving my credibility as a dog owner but also just repeating verbatim what Kaitlyn’s question was.

“Yep, we just recommend you start with half of what they normally eat,” she said. I nodded and she followed up with, “Okay, I’ll just go grab them and I’ll be right back.”

She walked away while I stayed there standing, wondering for the next five minutes how long “right back” would be. Finally, the familiar little beasts led the way as she walked back through the door.

They were on temporary leashes that she handed to me as she started switching them out for their real ones. I held on, hoping it wasn’t too tight of a lead to make her judge me or somehow choke them but also not wanting to give them enough space to wander off to the other dogs.

“…You can let go now,” she hinted as she traded me for the newly attached leashes. I thanked her and led them out the door, relieved I’d made it through.

But it wasn’t over. I realized as I walked across the parking lot that I was about to encounter an unexpected obstacle. I had two dogs and needed to lift them one at a time into the car. How was I supposed to use two arms to pick one up while holding onto the other one, making sure she didn’t wander away or worse, get hit by a car. This is it. I thought. This is the moment where I get found out. The one bright spot was Kaitlyn had at least already taught me how to lift them up without them wiggling around like a distressed worm fighting for its life.

I opened the back door of the car before wrapping one leash up and around my arm. Feeling like it was secure, I picked Emmy up to put her in her crate, dropped her leash, and quickly picked up Cedar. “Wait!” I said, mimicking Kaitlyn’s authoritative voice as I stumbled through taking off their leashes and closing their crate doors. I’m pretty sure they can tell when I don’t know how to do things and, rather than try to take advantage, they wait patiently for me to figure it out. I closed the back door, got in the car myself, and pulled out of the parking lot. Against all odds, I made it.

As I drove home, I surprised even myself when, rather than the typical rehashing of the anxiety-ridden past 15 minutes, my thoughts turned instead to how grateful I was that everything with their appointments had gone fine. Even though it was routine, there’s always that pesky thought that something bad can happen.

“You’re good girls,” I said. “You’re good puppies,” repeating similar sentiments along with reassurance we were almost home as I drove extra carefully. I have no idea what recovering from anesthesia is like for dogs but at the very least I knew they hadn’t eaten since 9 pm the previous night and that alone is cause for immense empathy.

It might not seem like it externally, but I’ve grown a ton in the last four years of being a dog owner. While it might not feel like much, I like to tell myself it’s in the ways that matter most. I may be the world’s most awkward and unqualified dog owner, but they’ve booped, licked, and wagged their way into my heart. I honestly can’t imagine our lives without them, nor do I want to. It’s admittedly taken me longer than most to develop an emotional bond – even the act of talking to them is a learned behavior. But while I may not fully understand how dog owners do all the things they do, I definitely understand why.

That small favor, though, babe? I think we can all agree my efforts to manage the bare minimum were nothing short of heroic.

“What can I get you?” My coworker asked, about to go get coffee.

This was a question I’d been preparing for. Not because I expected her to get me coffee but because I had just moved back to the PNW and recognized the shift to coffee culture. I’d spent the last 10 years in Utah where, instead of coffee, teachers go to drive thru soda shops like Swig and Sodalicious to get their signature soda concoctions. This is because there are several rules in Mormonism that surround what you can eat and drink; most notable is abstaining from alcohol or “hot drinks,” which is interpreted to mean no coffee or tea. It's a nebulous but strict rule – hot chocolate, herbal tea, energy drinks, and caffeinated soda all sneak under the radar of unacceptability (though all but hot chocolate can be contentiously debated). It had been easy to select a drink of choice for the communal soda runs, but outside of the Utah bubble, I needed to learn how to have a coffee order.

“A chai tea latte, please,” I replied.

“Okay a chai…” she said as she wrote it down on a piece of paper.

“Yeah, a chai tea latte,” I repeated verbatim because I didn’t know if there was a difference between what I said and what she did but I knew for sure I didn’t want plain tea.

I was 29 and still didn’t know how to order coffee but I’d done my research. And by research, I mean I asked my sister and her wife what their favorite Starbucks drinks were. They were a safe place to land and also knew that every detail needed to be explained. What’s a reasonable size? How do you pronounce everything? What tastes the least like coffee? It helps to have someone else who knows how little I know because she’s been there too and come out the other side.

The first time I tried coffee I was at a work conference. They had breakfast snacks and those large stainless steel dispensers of coffee and hot water. This is my chance, I thought. I don’t have to make it or even pay for it and I can take as little as I want. I grabbed one of the white mugs from the neat stack on the table and lifted the dispenser lever until I'd filled the cup halfway. I moved down the table to the pitcher of cream and tried to look confident as I poured a little bit in. How much cream do you put in? Is this a 1:1 ratio situation? Also, is this cream or is this milk? I quickly grabbed 5 sugar packets (I know myself) and a stirring stick before retreating to a far table in the room to empty in the sugar. Surely that much would make anything taste good.

But it didn’t. It just tasted like dirty, bitter, slightly acidic water that left a terrible aftertaste. I lasted two sips before I had to abandon ship. Must be an acquired taste, I thought, as I placed my mug on the round serving tray of used dishes.

I’ve always wanted to love coffee, though, mainly for the cozy writing-at-a-coffee-shop vibes. I could see it so clearly – the laptop on the dark-stained wood table, the steam rising from the oversized mug, the clicking of the keys as creativity flowed through me. Coffee feels synonymous with reading and writing; sign me up. There was just that minor detail about hating the taste.

Part of the problem stemmed from growing up only drinking hot chocolate. I associated warm brown drinks with melted chocolate, and I had a hard time getting over the mental hurdle that coffee should taste just as sugary and creamy. Turns out, there are drinks called mochas.

Mochas were the perfect gateway to coffee drinking with that mentality in mind – especially when I made them myself and could control the amount of coffee I added. I started off by adding just a splash of coffee to my hot chocolate. I gradually increased the ratio from essence of coffee to half coffee, half hot chocolate, and found myself recognizing and genuinely liking the taste. Mixing coffee with hot chocolate was even, dare I say, too sweet.

When I met Kaitlyn, she was further along in her coffee journey than me. Our first date was at Starbucks but that was less because I loved drinking coffee then and more because it seemed like the thing to do. Kaitlyn helped me along with branching out my taste, mostly because I could just try sips of her drinks without having to commit to the whole thing, and her drink of choice at the time was chai lattes.

I'd heard of chai tea before and had even heard it described as Christmas in a cup, but my previous experience with trying leaf water made me highly suspicious. Now that I’ve had it in the form of a latte (the only way to drink tea), I can think of no better way to describe the familiar, warm spices. My world was expanding at an exponential rate.

With Kaitlyn’s help I tried regular lattes, then just coffee with creamer. Since I’m no barista, this final step made it so I felt like I could make coffee at home (thanks to one-button Keurig brewing). I learned which mugs are my favorite, found my preferred creamer, and coffee quickly became my favorite part of the morning (that Folger’s jingle was on point) - though I'll admit my coffee to creamer ratio is still significantly larger than Kaitlyn's. Coffee helps accelerate my slow wake-up process just a little bit and was a welcome addition to my morning routine.

Today my go-to drink is a caramel latte or coffee with chocolate and caramel creamer. Maybe it’s because drinking coffee with caramel flavoring instantly takes me back to our rental house in Portland in the early days of my coffee journey. I’d brew a cup of caramel coffee around 10:00 am (those were the days of unemployment) before making my way to my office where I’d write at my desk, in front of the window looking into the yard. It wasn’t writing in a coffee shop – in reality, I don’t want to leave the house in the morning – but the idyllic became the reality.

bottom of page